Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

The Battle of Vercellae

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, Venice 1696–1770 Madrid)
Oil on canvas
Irregular painted surface, 162 x 148 3/8 in. (411.5 x 376.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1965
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 600
This painting is from a series of ten magnificent canvases painted to decorate the main room of Ca’ Dolfin, Venice. The battle has been tentatively identified as the great victory of Gaius Marius over the fierce Teutonic tribes in Lombardy in 101 B.C. The tribe of the Cimbri had crossed the Alps near Trent and invaded the Veneto, whose mild climate and delicacies reputedly sapped their strength. Their defeat saved Rome from conquest.
This work is usually identified as depicting Marius's victory over the invading Cimbrian Gauls at Vercellae, in Lombardy, an event that took place in 101 B.C. It is from a series of ten monumental canvases of scenes from Roman history that Tiepolo painted for the grand reception room of the Palazzo Dolfin in Venice. Dating from about 1726–29, the works remained in situ until 1872. In addition to the three in the MMA (65.183.1–3), five are in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, and two in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

The illusionistic architectural framework surrounding the recesses into which the paintings were set dictated the irregular profiles of the canvases, altered when they were removed from the palace in 1872 and restored in the cases of those now in Vienna and New York. The recesses still survive, making a definitive reconstruction of the arrangement of the cycle possible. To either side of the main doorway were the two squarish battle scenes, this work and The Capture of Carthage, also in the MMA, while opposite them to either side of the center window were the two narrow canvases depicting The Death of Lucius Junius Brutus and Hannibal Contemplating the Head of Hasdrubal, both in Vienna. A sort of triptych appeared on each of the two shorter walls, with the Museum's Triumph of Marius flanked by Fabius Maximus before the Roman Senate and Cincinnatus Offered the Dictatorship, both in the Hermitage, and, opposite, The Tarantine Triumph flanked by Mucius Scaevola before Porsenna and Veturia Pleading with Coriolanus, all in the Hermitage. All the canvases except the two battle scenes were originally provided with banderoles identifying the subjects from Lucius Annaeus Florus's Epitomae de Tito Livio belorum . . . Libri II. (All the banderoles were painted over in the nineteenth century, but some have been uncovered in restoration.)

What makes these pictures so compelling as works of art is the manner in which Roman history is treated as staged theater rather than archaeological fact. To a degree, this approach was typically Venetian, but Tiepolo stands apart from his contemporaries in his insistence on narrative clarity and dramatic focus: at no point does he sacrifice intensity of expression to decorative concerns.

The Tarantine Triumph must be the earliest painting in the series, followed by that work's two flanking canvases, and then the remaining compositions, including the two battle scenes. The Triumph of Marius is unquestionably the latest picture in the cycle, which is why it is dated and why Tiepolo included his portrait in it.

[2010; adapted from Christiansen 1996]
Inscription: Inscribed (upper left, on banner): SP[QR]
Ca' Dolfin, Venice (until 1872); Daniele III (Giovanni) and Daniele IV (Gerolamo) Dolfin, Ca' Dolfin (until both d. 1729); Dolfin family, Ca' Dolfin (1729–98); Cecilia Dolfin Lippomano, Ca' Dolfin (from 1798); by descent to Gasparo Lippomano, Ca' Dolfin (until d. 1854); his nephew, conte Giovanni Querini Stampalia, Ca' Dolfin (1854–d. 1868); [Michelangelo Guggenheim, Venice, by 1870–72; sold for 50,000 lire to von Aichholz]; Baron Eugen Miller von Aichholz, Palast Aichholz, Vienna (1872–d. 1919; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 15, 1876, no. 1, as "Le Siège de Palmyre," 480 x 370 cm, bought in); Camillo Castiglioni, Palast Aichholz, Vienna (1919–35; pledged as collateral security for a loan in 1932; transferred to Mendl in 1935); Dr. Stefan Mendl, Zürich, later New York and Saranac Lake, N.Y. (1935–d. 1955; his estate, 1955–65; sold to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1770," January 24–April 27, 1997, no. 12g.

Vincenzo da Canal. Vita del sig. Gregorio Lazzarini Pittor Veneziano. 1732 [published as "Vita di Gregorio Lazzarini," Venice: Stamperia Palese, 1809, p. XXXIV], mentions ten paintings of varying heights in the main room of the Ca' Dolfin; does not give the artist's name; states that they depict battles and triumphs of Coriolanus along with other scenes from Roman history.

Daniele Florio. Poetici componimenti per le gloriosissime nozze di S.S.E.E. il Sig. Giovanni Delfino e la Sig. Bianca Contarini. [Venice], [1747], p. 39 [see Ref. Sohm 1986].

Jean Claude Richard, Abbé de Saint-Non. Journal entry. May–June 1761 [published in Pierre Rosenberg and Barbara Brejon de Lavergnée, "Panopticon italiano: un diario di viaggio ritrovato, 1759–1761," Rome, 1986, pp. 202, 206], mentions large frescoes [sic] in a grand salon of the Ca' Dolfin, calling them some of Tiepolo's best works made in Venice.

Pierre Jacques Onesyme Bergeret de Grancourt. Journal entry. July 23, 1774 [published in "Bergeret et Fragonard: Journal inédit d'un voyage en Italie, 1773–1774, précédé d'une étude par M. A. Tornézy," Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de l'Ouest 17, ser. 2 (1894), p. 386], admires the ten large paintings by Tiepolo in the Ca' Dolfin, identifying the subjects as episodes from Roman history.

Giannantonio Moschini. Della letteratura veneziana del secolo XVIII fino a' nostri giorni. Vol. 3, Venice, 1806, p. 75, calls Tiepolo's paintings in the Ca' Dolfin early works.

Giovanni Morelli. Letter to Giovanni Melli. February 21, 1872 [see Ref. Christiansen 1998], writes from Venice that "yesterday [Miller] bought ten large Tiepolo canvases from a dealer here for the price of 46,000 francs".

Giovanni Morelli. Letter to Sir Austen Henry Layard. March 5, 1872 [see Ref. Christiansen 1998], writes that the ten paintings by Tiepolo "are truly done with much spirit and brio but in the end are little more than decoration"; notes that the dealer from whom Miller bought the paintings was Michelangelo Guggenheim.

Henry de Chennevières. Les Tiepolo. Paris, [1898?], p. 18, mentions the Ca' Dolfin pictures among Tiepolo's early works.

Heinrich Modern. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Vienna, 1902, pp. 22–23, 53, states that the Ca' Dolfin came into the hands of an art dealer about twenty-five years ago, that he sold Tiepolo's paintings, and that Eugen Miller von Aichholz brought them to Vienna; adds that Miller retains five, five having later gone to Russia; calls them early works and notes the influence of Piazzetta.

Pompeo Molmenti. G. B. Tiepolo: la sua vita e le sue opere. Milan, [1909], pp. 276–77, 285 n. 13, ill. between pp. 266 and 267, as "Battaglia tra Romani ed Asiatici"; states incorrectly that Miller acquired the ten paintings in 1870, and adds that he installed the three works now in the MMA on the staircase of his palace; cites references to the pictures in letters (Museo Correr, Venice) of Luigi Ballarini, Andrea Dolfin's agent, during the period 1780–92.

Eduard Sack. Giambattista und Domenico Tiepolo: Ihr Leben und Ihre Werke. Hamburg, 1910, vol. 1, pp. 33–35, fig. 18; vol. 2, pp. 151, 203, no. 14, dates them about 1720; mentions a sketch for this composition in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

E. de Liphart in Les anciennes écoles de peinture dans les palais et collections privées russes, représentées à l'exposition organisée à St.-Pétersbourg en 1909 par la revue d'art ancien "Staryé gody". Brussels, 1910, p. 38 n. 1, notes that he saw the paintings still in place in 1870, when the Ca' Dolfin was in a state of ruin; mentions that the dealer Guggenheim bought some of the contents for 20,000 lire [implying that this price includes more items than the ten Tiepolo paintings] and sold the Tiepolo pictures to Miller for 50,000 lire.

J. v. Derschau. "Tiepolos Schlachtenbilder in Wiener Privatbesitz." Der Cicerone 7 (1915), pp. 16, 20, pl. 3, as "Reiterschlacht"; dates the series about 1720.

Bortolo Giovanni Dolfin. I Dolfin (Delfino) patrizii veneziani nella storia di Venezia dall'anno 452 al 1923. 2nd ed., rev. and enl. Milan, 1924, p. 187 [see Ref. Christiansen 1996].

Paolo M. Arese. "Il palazzo e la raccolta Castiglioni a Vienna." Illustrazione italiana 52 (March 29, 1925), pp. 259–60, 262, ill. pp. 261 (photograph of three MMA paintings installed on staircase) and 262, as "Guerre giugertine".

Giuseppe Fiocco. Venetian Painting of the Seicento and the Settecento. Florence, [1929], p. 58, dates them about 1725.

Giuseppe Fiocco. "The Castiglioni Tiepolos at Vienna." Burlington Magazine 58 (April 1931), pp. 173–74, pl. IIB, as "Marius's Victory over the Cimbri at Vercelli".

"Rundschau: Wien, Neuerwerbungen der Galerie." Pantheon 7 (January 1931), p. III.

Wart Arslan. "Studi sulla pittura del primo Settecento veneziano." Critica d'arte 1 (1935–36), p. 250, dates them 1725–26.

Giulio Lorenzetti. "Tre note Tiepolesche." Rivista di Venezia 14 (August 1935), pp. 391–92.

Max Goering. Italienische Malerei des siebzehnten und achtzehnten Jahrhunderts. Berlin, 1936, p. 31, dates them about 1720.

M. I. Shcherbacheva. Tiepolo's Pictures of the Venice Dolfino Palace at the Hermitage Museum. Leningrad [St. Petersburg], 1941, pp. 3–46, pl. 10, finds a date of 1720–25 plausible; discusses the subject matter and notes its connection with the history of the Dolfin family.

Antonio Morassi. "Novità e precisazioni sul Tiepolo—II." Le arti 4 (April–May 1942), pp. 259–64, fig. 2, dates the ten paintings about 1726–30 and discusses their history; notes the alteration in size of some of the canvases and deduces the original positions of the works from the stucco frames still in situ.

Antonio Morassi. Tiepolo. Bergamo, 1943, p. 16.

Nicola Ivanoff. "Una postilla tiepolesca." Ateneo veneto 135 (July–December 1951), pp. 71–72.

Antonio Morassi. G. B. Tiepolo: His Life and Work. London, 1955, pp. 11–12, fig. 15.

Rodolfo Pallucchini. La pittura veneziana del Settecento. Venice, 1960, p. 71, accepts Morassi's [see Ref. 1942] dating of 1726–30.

Antonio Morassi. A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings of G. B. Tiepolo. London, 1962, pp. 15, 34, 66.

Anna Pallucchini in L'opera completa di Giambattista Tiepolo. Milan, 1968, pp. 91–92, no. 48D, ill., dates the series 1725–30.

George Knox and Christel Thiem. Tiepolo: Zeichnungen von Giambattista, Domenico und Lorenzo Tiepolo . . . . Exh. cat., Graphische Sammlung Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. 1970, p. 127, under no. 146, mention a drawing (Robert von Hirsch, Basel) related to a figure in this picture, which, along with two drawings (Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and Rudolf J. Heinemann, New York) related to "The Capture of Carthage," they tentatively ascribe to Giovanni Battista and date about 1750; consequently suggest that "The Battle of Vercellae" and "The Capture of Carthage" might have been painted much later than the other canvases in the series.

Aldo Rizzi. Mostra del Tiepolo. Exh. cat., Villa Manin di Passariano. Vol. [1], "Dipinti."[Milan], [1971], fig. 14.

Jean Cailleux. "Tiepolo et Boucher." Celebrazioni tiepolesche: atti del Congresso internazionale di studi sul Tiepolo con un'appendice sulla mostra. Ed. Elettra Quargnal. [Milan], [1971], pp. 96, 100 n. 29, fig. 1 (cropped), dates the series probably about 1728–30, mentioning the date of 1729 appearing on "The Triumph of Marius"; discusses the alterations in the sizes of the canvases.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 197, 484, 609.

Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, pp. 60–63, pl. 67, believe that the painting more probably depicts events from the life of the fifth-century-B.C. Roman hero Gaius Marcius Coriolanus than the battle of Vercellae in 101 B.C.

Felice Stampfle and Cara D. Denison. Drawings from the Collection of Lore and Rudolf Heinemann. New York, 1973, p. 52, under no. 82, attribute the Stuttgart, Heinemann, and Hirsch drawings to Giovanni Domenico.

Antonio Porcella. La giovinezza di Giambattista Tiepolo. Rome, 1973, pp. 39–42, 50 n. 60, pp. 55–56, fig. 52, dates the series 1725–30.

Anthony M. Clark in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 84, ill.

George Knox. "Some Notes on Large Paintings Depicting Scenes from Antique History by Ricci, Piazzetta, Bambini & Tiepolo." Atti del Congresso internazionale di studi su Sebastiano Ricci e il suo tempo. Ed. Anna Serra. [Milan], [1976?], p. 103.

Giuliana Pradella. "La decorazione pittorica di Ca' Dolfin." Master's thesis, Università degli Studi di Venezia, 1979–80, pp. 1–112, identifies Daniele IV Dolfin as the family member who commissioned the series of paintings from Tiepolo.

Arnauld Brejon de Lavergnée. Dijon, Musée Magnin: Catalogue des tableaux et dessins italiens (XVe–XIXe siècles). Paris, 1980, p. 109.

George Knox. Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo: A Study and Catalogue Raisonné of the Chalk Drawings. Oxford, 1980, vol. 1, pp. 60–66 n. 5, develops his argument [see Ref Knox and Thiem 1970] that "The Capture of Carthage" and "The Battle of Vercellae" were painted some time after the rest of the series, dating them about 1754, based on his dating of the Stuttgart, Heinemann, and Hirsch drawings, which he attributes to Giovanni Battista; discusses the subject matter, accepting the battle of Vercellae as the event depicted.

Egidio Martini. La pittura del Settecento veneto. Udine, 1982, p. 55, fig. 142.

Michael Levey. Giambattista Tiepolo: His Life and Art. New Haven, 1986, pp. 52–53, dates the entire series about 1729 and suggests that Tiepolo may have worked on the pictures during the winter months of the years in which he spent the summers working at Udine; notes the influence of Solimena.

Philip L. Sohm. "A New Document on Giambattista Tiepolo's Santa Fosca Residence." Arte veneta 40 (1986).

Alvise Zorzi. Venetian Palaces. New York, 1990, pp. 479–80.

George Knox. "Tiepolo Triumphant: The Roman History Cycles of Ca' Dolfin, Venice." Apollo 134 (November 1991), pp. 301–2, 305, 309, fig. 5 (color), suggests that "The Battle of Vercellae" and "The Capture of Carthage" actually depict, respectively, the battle against the Volsci and the fall of Corioli, following the text of Ref. Canal 1732, where the series is described as "le battaglie e i trionfi di Coriolano"; confirms his dating of these two pictures to about 1754 [although Canal's description precedes this date by twenty-two years].

Beverly Louise Brown. Giambattista Tiepolo: Master of the Oil Sketch. Exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth. Milan, 1993, pp. 157–60.

Massimo Gemin and Filippo Pedrocco. Giambattista Tiepolo: i dipinti, opera completa. Venice, 1993, pp. 60–63, 258, 260, no. 89, ill., date the entire series 1726–29.

Rodolfo Pallucchini. La pittura nel Veneto: il Settecento. Vol. 1, Milan, 1995, pp. 348, 352–53, fig. 571.

Michael Kimmelman. "The Tiepolos Bloom Again in Face Lift at the Met." New York Times (September 8, 1995), p. C24.

Diane De Grazia in Italian Paintings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Washington, 1996, pp. 312, 314, 316 nn. 26, 33.

Keith Christiansen et al. in Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1770. Ed. Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1996, pp. 12, 30, 44, 49, 57, 60, 63, 79, 81, 84, 86, 96–97, 99–103, 109, no. 12g, ill. (color) [Italian ed., "Giambattista Tiepolo, 1696–1996," Milan, 1996], dates it about 1728–29.

Beverly Louise Brown. "Giambattista Tiepolo at the Metropolitan." Apollo 145 (April 1997), p. 58.

Keith Christiansen. "The Ca' Dolfin Tiepolos." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 55 (Spring 1998), pp. 9–60, figs. 4, 6, 8, 27, 46, 58, 62 (color and black and white, and color details).

Valentina Conticelli. "Ca' Dolfin a San Pantalon: precisazioni sulla committenza e sul programma iconografico della 'Magnifica Sala'." Giambattista Tiepolo nel terzo centenario della nascita. Ed. Lionello Puppi. Padua, 1998, vol. 1, pp. 231–32, 234–36, believes the patron was Daniele Dolfin III (Giovanni) and not Daniele IV (Girolamo), on the basis of the former's previously unpublished testament; discusses parallels between the Dolfin commissions for Udine and Venice; identifies a link between this painting and the allegorical figure of Experience in the ceiling, suggesting the presence of a single iconographic program that informs the entire decoration of the salone, exalting civic, moral, and heroic virtues.

Monica Centanni. "Guerra e morte fraterna: il mito storico romano nelle tele di Giovambattista Tiepolo per i Dolfin." Giambattista Tiepolo nel terzo centenario della nascita. Ed. Lionello Puppi. Padua, 1998, vol. 1, pp. 267, 270–72; vol. 2, p. 101, fig. 8, proposes a new allegorical reading of the Dolfin cycle, on the basis of a re-examination of Florus and Livy, identifying this painting as "the apparition of the Dioscuri"; believes the Roman victories are primarily exempla virtutis.

Collecting Connoisseurship and the Art Market in Risorgimento Italy: Giovanni Morelli's Letters to Giovanni Melli and Pietro Zavaritt (1866–1872). Ed. Jaynie Anderson. Venice, 1999, pp. 151–52 n. 143.

Valentina Conticelli. "Il ciclo pittorico di Ca' Dolfin: Tiepolo, Mantegna e l'antico." Proporzioni, n.s., 1 (2000), pp. 181, 194 n. 10, p. 196 n. 25.

Valentina Conticelli. "Eroi, battaglie e trionfi: fonti classiche per un ciclo di Tiepolo." Fontes: rivista di filologia, iconografia e storia della tradizione classica 4–5 (2001–2), pp. 260–73, 278–79, 289, pl. 45b, suggests that it depicts the battle of Zama; locates this work below the allegorical figure of Immortality and the other battle scene (65.183.2) under Experience, the reverse of her earlier opinion [see Ref. 1998].

Filippo Pedrocco. Giambattista Tiepolo. Milan, 2002, pp. 45, 214–16, no. 61/10, ill. pp. 52–53 (color, detail), 215.

Chiara Callegari in I colori della seduzione: Giambattista Tiepolo & Paolo Veronese. Ed. Linda Borean and William L. Barcham. Exh. cat., Castello. Udine, 2012, p. 152.

Caterina Furlan in I colori della seduzione: Giambattista Tiepolo & Paolo Veronese. Ed. Linda Borean and William L. Barcham. Exh. cat., Castello. Udine, 2012, p. 90.

Giuseppe Bergamini in Giambattista Tiepolo: "il miglior pittore di Venezia". Ed. Giuseppe Bergamini et al. Exh. cat., Villa Manin di Passariano. Codroipo, 2012, p. 38.

Denis Ton in Giambattista Tiepolo: "il miglior pittore di Venezia". Ed. Giuseppe Bergamini et al. Exh. cat., Villa Manin di Passariano. Codroipo, 2012, p. 221.

Fiocco (1931) first proposed the subject of this picture to be the battle of Vercellae, when Gaius Marius [the same hero represented in MMA 65.183.1] defeated the Teutonic tribes of the Cimbri in Lombardy in 101 B.C. This identification cannot be regarded as certain; others have been suggested (Zeri and Gardner 1973, Knox 1991, and Centanni 1998).

A drawing in the collection of Robert von Hirsch, Basel, is related to the rider on the left and is probably a copy by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo from about 1754–55. Domenico used the group of figures on the left of the painting in his fresco in the church of Saints Faustino and Giovita, Brescia.
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